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Poroshenko Bloc Set to Dominate Ukraine Polls

Limited range of voter choices in forthcoming parliamentary election.
By Oleg Shynkarenko

With less than a month to go until Ukraine’s presidential elections, President Petro Poroshenko’s coalition looks to dominate the vote, although nearly a third of voters remain undecided.

According to a poll carried out last month by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives foundation, the Petro Poroshenko Bloc has a clear lead with 26.9 per cent.

In second place was the populist Radical Party with 6.2 per cent and Batkivschyna, led by former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, was third with 5.5 per cent. Other pollsters put Batkivschyna second and the Radicals behind.

The October 26 election will be overshadowed by the conflict in the east of the country, where separatist leaders say they will prevent people voting and instead hold their own ballot in November. Crimea, annexed by Russia in March, held an election for its assembly last month.

Yevhen Semehin, 28, a civic activist from Makeyevka in the eastern Donetsk region, said more than two million voters had been disenfranchised.

“Residents of the two regions [Donetsk and Luhansk] have been deprived of their constitutional right to vote and influence the future composition of the Supreme Council,” he said. He believes a parliamentary election should only be held if everyone in Ukraine gets to vote, otherwise the legislature will be “illegitimate”.

Following his victory in May’s presidential race, Poroshenko called an early parliamentary election for October with the aim of creating a legitimate elected body.

According to the Central Election Commission, over 50 political parties have registered for the election. With the threshold set at five per cent, there will be fierce competition among the more than 6,600 candidates for the 450 seats in parliament.

Analysts say that the political landscape can be divided into three main streams – liberal democrats, nationalists and figures from the old order.

Many share similar platforms, and this may split the vote. Some parties like Samopomich (“Self-Reliance”), headed by Lviv mayor Andry Sadovy under the slogan “Christian morality and common sense” have been very active on social media but are unlikely to translate this into electoral success.

The party was predicted to take just 1.7 per cent of the vote in the Ilko Kucheriv poll.

“Samopomich is just one of many new democratic parties which hold very similar views, but all of which are separated from each other, so that they cannot achieve a cumulative effect in voter percentages,” political scientist Olexiy Haran told IWPR. “It isn’t enough to have some progressive ideas that satisfy a sophisticated and well-informed Facebook audience. “You need a fairly comprehensive political narrative and a developed network of regional organisations in order to gain recognition among the broader population.”

Haran said the high level support for the Petro Poroshenko Bloc was attributable to the president’s pragmatic approach, but he warned its appeal could fade if it failed to convince voters that it had taken action against corruption or that it could end the war in the east.

This view was shared by Halyna Saychuk, a 26-year-old Kiev bookkeeper, who told IWPR, “I might vote for the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, but I’m not sure. I’d like to believe him, but I can’t believe just like that. He needs to deliver everything he’s promised.”

With nearly a third of voters undecided, some smaller groupings may make it past the threshold. The Ilko Kucheriv poll listed the possibles as the liberal Civic Position with 4.6 per cent, the People’s Front, led by current prime minister Arseny Yatsenyuk with 3.9 per cent and the nationalist Svoboda (“Freedom”) party with 3.3 per cent.

The Communist Party of Ukraine could also scrape in if it does better than the three per cent currently predicted, but it is seen by many as a symbol of Russian control, and it did not support the Kiev protests earlier this year that led to a change of government. The toppling of statues of Vladimir Lenin in towns around Ukraine is another reflection of perceptions of the Soviet past.

In all, 127 politicians who sat in the parliament of former president Viktor Yanukovich are running for office again. Most are running as independents in “single mandate constituencies”, which account for 225 seats in parliament filled on a first-past-basis. The rest are elected by proportional representation from lists of candidates offered by parties.

These old guard figures include Vladyslav Atroshenko, who voted for anti-protest legislation in January that resulted in the death of more than 100 protestors. Atroshenko is among the politicians named on an internet site dedicated to naming and shaming politicians who supported the Yanukovich regime.

Activists have also tried to block the candidacy of Valery Khoroshkovsky, former head of the security service and one of Ukraine’s richest men.

Khoroshkovsky left Ukraine in 2012, and the law prohibits anyone who has not resided in the country for the last five years from running for office. However, his lawyers have argued successfully that he was on an extended business trip.

Some politicians from Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions, once the dominant political force, have re-formed as the Opposition Bloc. This grouping consists of numerous small parties, but the Ilko Kucheriv poll gave it just 3.4 per cent of the predicted vote.

It is also unclear how right-wing Ukrainian nationalist parties will perform, even though many supporters are now fighting in volunteer forces in the east. The Ilko Kucheriv poll gave Svoboda 3.3 per cent and Right Sector just 0.9 per cent.

Voters may be put off by the nationalists’ emphasis on aggressive direct action, for instance the “Trash Bucket Challenge”, in which right-wing activists grab politicians they accuse of corruption and put them into large rubbish bins. Video footage of these incidents has been shared widely on social media,

“We first started the Trash Bucket Challenge in Odessa, to give judges a hint that they aren’t doing their jobs properly,” Right Sector spokesman Borislav Bereza told IWPR. “People took up our initiative, because it’s the only way to fight for justice in Ukraine right now.”

A politicians from the Party of the Regions, Nestor Shufrych, was badly beaten in Odessa last month when he met local voters.

“He was going to fake his own beating, but our activists helped him get a more realistic result,” Bereza joked. “We can’t control people when they deliver justice.”

Many Ukrainians think this mob justice undermines the political credibility of those behind it.

“It looks very attractive on YouTube. I always laugh when they throw officials in rubbish bins, but I wouldn’t want to vote for them, because they arent real politicians,” Oleg Kaplan, a 32-year-old engineer said.

According to a recent poll by market research agency GFK Ukraine, 72 per cent of eligible voters plan to participate in the polls.

Iryna Sedova, 35, a journalist, noted that as she was formerly resident in Crimea, she needed to register elsewhere in order to be able to vote.

“I wasn’t able to do it in the last presidential election, because I didn’t have the time time and the queue was longer than 200 people. The clerks took 15 minutes to register four voters, so half of those waiting were just not included in the lists. I think we can expect the same story in this election.”

Some voters are excited about having a chance to pick new democratic movements. Lyudmila Melnyk, 28, a psychologist from Kiev, said she would be voting for Democratic Alliance, a youth movement with an anti-corruption agenda.

“It’s the first Ukrainian party created by an NGO rather than as a project of oligarchs or state officials,” she said. “It gets money from crowdfunding campaigns and shows how every cent was spent.”

But others, although they plan to vote, say they are disappointed with the political landscape that has emerged since the revolution on Kiev’s Maidan square.

“I haven’t decided on my choice,” said Olexander Vesheleny, 29, a lecturer from Vinnytsya. “The most decent lists – though not ideal – are those of Civic Position, Democratic Alliance, the People’s Front and the Petro Poroshenko Bloc. But when we talk about Ukrainian politics, is it really about ideology?”

Oleg Shynkarenko is a Ukrainian journalist based in Kiev.

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